Jitin Gulati is an actor and a model. In 2009, he quit his job with a foreign bank and began a career in acting. He has worked in several advertisements as a model and actor, including Raymond, Lifestyle, Smirnoff, L’Oréal, Pan Bahar, Volkswagen, Anita Dongre, among others.
His acting credits include the internationally acclaimed India’s first Silent LGBTQI film, Faraz Ansari’s Sisak, Neeraj Pandey’s M.S.Dhoni-The Untold Story, Anubhav Sinha’s Warning 3D. His work on television includes the SONY period drama Prithvi Vallabh and 24 (India) on Colors. He then went on to work in Amazon India’s Inside Edge and Altbalaji’s Broken But Beautiful.
Team Storiyaan talked with the wonderful actor, where he spoke about his inspirations, acting, teaching, dance, and the characters he’s played so far.
Questions and answers
Your parents come from disparate fields, you along with your siblings, work in finance as well. When was the first time you knew acting was your calling?
I just moved into a new house here in Mumbai, and while unpacking was going through some old pictures. One of them was of me playing Lokmanya Tilak in a school play when I was four. I always knew this was what I wanted to do. I don’t think there was an epiphany in my life about what I wanted to do. I was born with this bug. I was always on stage performing, and since school, whatever decisions I have made in my life were taken, keeping in mind that one day I will go to Mumbai to work in the movies. Since I studied commerce, I took up a job in a bank, and eventually, I applied for a posting in Mumbai through the bank to move here. I even applied for commerce so I could stay in Delhi and do theater and study dance. The industry isn’t as active in Delhi, and I didn’t know anyone in this field, so I trained in various aspects of film making while I was working with the bank. Apart from acting workshops, I did film appreciation, screenplay writing courses, and many others to understand this world. In one of the workshops in Delhi, I met Mr. Mani Ratnam, and I asked him how to start, and he said, ‘Just Jump in.’ I finally left my banking job in 2009 and started modeling.
What made you stick with being a Corporate Trainer, juggling it with acting and modeling?
I still teach Banking and Trade Finance in an MBA institute in Mumbai. I believe, if one tries wholeheartedly, the universe backs you up. I was still working in the bank when I started modeling. I couldn’t continue because there was a conflict of interest and scarcity of time. It became difficult to juggle two full-time jobs. I was a product specialist and a trainer in the bank, and I got to know through someone that a college was looking for a professor in the same field. I went ahead and applied and got that job. Teaching in a college is a great balance for me. It is a good break for me from this make-believe world of ours, so I intend to continue for as long as possible. Even with corporate-training, I happen to join the company via an actor I was shooting with. Somehow I’ve worked with great people who’ve helped me juggle teaching with acting. Teaching and Training are quite similar to acting; you are always performing for an audience.
You had your major debut with Warning by ErosNow. It had an ensemble cast. What are the memories/things you’ve learnt and taken away with you and cherished all these years?
Warning is the one team that I am still in touch with. That was my first movie, released on the big screen. I remember watching Mr. Amitabh Bachchan in Hum in 1991 and the electric current that ran through my body when the song Jooma Chumma De De started. I just wanted to be a part of that world, and Warning helped me achieve that. I’ll always be grateful to Anubhav Sinha (producer), Gurmmeet Singh (director), and Sandhya Mridul (casting director). Guru and Sandhya pushed for me. It is rare in this business for people to punt on you when they don’t know you or need anything from you. I will always be indebted to them for my first opportunity.
Talk to me about actors, directors, or any artists who have influenced you.
Amitabh Bachchan and Sri Devi have been the two acting institutes that I have studied during my childhood. My sense of understanding of cinema, aesthetics, stories, characters, life, and its truths are derived from the cinema of Mr. Yash Chopra. I’m very much inspired by the young, new actors that I watch. I watched Call Me By Your Name, and Timothèe Chalamet’s scene in the climax has so much honesty in it. Whether it’s a veteran or a fresh talent, there’s so much inspiration around. The only intent is to keep pushing oneself and be as truthful as possible. I have a huge list of scenes that I like from various films, and I rewatch them often. In the last decade or so, the two talents I have learnt a lot from are Irfan Khan and Randeep Hooda.
We cannot go on without asking about Sisak. It’s such a beautiful film where silence is the third character— since it is India’s first silent LGBTQI movie. What gravitated you towards this project, and how important is it, you believe, for films like this to be made?
I’m an ally of anything or anyone that comes under prejudice. There has been a debate recently on why people from the LGBTQI community are cast in these stories? I feel it is crucial that people from the community are given the first opportunity; I mean, who better to tell us their stories but them? We can always look out for talent if that does not work out, but consciously, it is pertinent that the often marginalized are given that push; otherwise, the world dynamic will never change. We would leave this planet with the same prejudices and differences that we were born into, and I feel we owe it to humanity to leave a better world. All representation is necessary now. Films like Sisak and Sheer Qorma must be talked about in the media. Whenever I get movies like these, I think of it from that perspective. Why should there be prejudice in any form? There are too many things that divide us and too less that unite us. So I gravitate towards such stories if I can put any artistic weight behind them.
You were the face of Raymond for quite a while. Can you tell us about the best memories you have working with them?
The biggest advantage as a model, working for a huge brand is that one becomes a brand oneself. Other brands put their faith in you as well. When I signed up as a Raymond model, I was seen as this model to look out for. It opened many doors for me. I worked with brands like L’Oreal, Smirnoff, and Pan Bahar after that. I once watched an actor’s interview in which they said that an actor should always look out for self-branding very early on in their careers, so I am careful about what brands I associate myself with, the kind of work I do. As a model, Raymond is a huge part of my success story. I’ll always be grateful for that.
M.S.Dhoni: The Untold Story must’ve been one of the highlights of your career so far. When you look back today, have you learnt some things from the story, Dhoni or Sushant?
Over the years, this film has meant so much to me. For any actor, when a film does well, suddenly they are considered for other roles and projects. It always gave me a happy feeling. Post-Sushant’s demise, the film brings in a lot of memories and mixed feelings. Sushant as an actor, Dhoni as a sportsman, and Neeraj Pandey as a director have many things in common: clarity of thought, focus, and commitment towards their work. The one thing I learnt was how to handle pressure while making this mammoth of a film. It was all so well-planned and well-executed. It was my first big-budget project with a big star-cast.
What role does dance play in your life— since you’ve been trained in classical Jazz?
I’m indebted to my training in dance. I am able to decipher the body language of my characters because of my training in dance. My body did give into stiffness because of my strength training schedules. I am constantly reducing and gaining weight, depending on the projects that I am working on. In this scenario, dance is one constant, which has helped me remain agile and maintain movement fluidity. Every time I am preparing for a part, its mannerisms, its details…the body attunes itself to the character because of my training in dance and movement.
From 24 to Broken But Beautiful and Inside Edge, being nominated for an International Emmy Award, shows your versatility as an actor. How do you look at your characters in these shows and talk to us about the contrast of picking the roles you play?
There’s no calculation for picking a role. My only effort is to work with the right set of people, people I can look up to and learn from. As someone who always wanted to act, I guess one develops an instinct for stories and characters, which helps in making those choices. Rest, it is always about the director and the team. I know if that is correct, I will be taken care of.
After so many years down your career, do you feel the liberty of picking your scripts?
As an actor, it is my job to choose projects which are suitable for my longevity. An actor always has liberty, but he is also at the mercy of how casting directors and directors perceive us. If I had only chosen what was offered to me, my career trajectory would have been very different. As an actor, I want to have a certain kind of career, so I need to hunt for those parts, which will help me achieve that.
Prithvi Vallabh is also a highlight on your resume. Since it is historical, what preparations did you do to get into the role, dialect, and kingly personality?
There are many roles that one prepares for internally than outwardly. Prithvi Vallabh was one such project where I had to work on the outside first, while internally, it kept developing. The show got delayed, and I got two months for prep. So I began working on the looks of the warrior. I put on 10-12 kgs of muscles for that part. I also learnt horse riding during that time. I was excited that it wasn’t a typical right or wrong character; the physical preparation led to mental preparation. Working on diction, language and character happened post that. I learnt a lot on that show. It increased my comfort level with the camera. Working in television can be very demanding, but it prepared me well.
Talk to us about the scenario of the film industry during the lockdown.
As an actor, one always goes through a lockdown from time to time. Sometimes you are working 2 shifts, and then there are times when you have no work for six months. As an actor, I am not new to uncertainty, but yes, you can’t escape what is happening around us. The collective grief and chaos do get to you sometimes. One can just put their head down and keep on working on themselves, and that’s what I did during this period. I started learning Tamil and read a lot, something that I was not doing for a while.
Has anyone ever given you a piece of advice that stuck with you or impacted you? And what advice would you like to give to young artists wanting to break their shell?
I watched an interview of Lata Mangeshkar Ji — where she said, “main jab bhi gaati hoon, dilse gaati hoon.”(whenever I sing, I sing with all my heart). This sounds very simple, but somehow I connect with it and aim to achieve this every time I face the camera. It makes me want to work in front of the camera, wholeheartedly and authentically. The other advice I often give myself and will give others too is to depend on oneself and nobody else to make your dreams come true.
1.Kartik from Broken But Beautiful OR TailapRaj from PrithviVallabh?: I can’t choose. Both are very dear to me
2. One Phrase to Describe SSR: A Beautiful mind
3. The First person you call when you’re happy or sad: If it’s good news, I call my mother. If it’s bad news, I don’t call anyone. I order a pizza and junk it away.
4.Describe Teaching/Masterclass in a word: Performance
5. The most significant influence on you as an actor:Life